Here's an op-ed for The Seattle Times. It was inspired by an off-hand remark from a successful candidate for a district election to the Seattle City Council. But I think the idea could have very widespread utility. It is practical, achievable and has significant impact by incremental change.
A Bridge to Somewhere A Triple Bottom Line for "The Next Seattle"
The City of Seattle cannot create more land. But it can, with other institutions, create more building sites to meet its housing needs. It can seek out “discovered spaces” and encourage "found opportunities" such as air rights on the parking lots at North Seattle College...
More here in this little Discussion Starter to stimulate thinking about the potential at NSC.
The answer is of course fairly simple: people resist change (in terms of specific new construction in their own immediate neighborhood) because they don't feel that they have any direct stake in it i.e. they don't perceive that they gain anything.
Give them something tangible such as likely increase in property value or cash.
It's hard to do that with proposals which are already zoned to allow, say, multi-family housing "as-of-right" and comply with the Code.
So we are stuck with endless fruitless conflict over proposals which are (in theory) in compliance with the law.
(Query -- why do we have proposals which comply with the Code and take a year to get approved? Answer: we really don't have "as-of-right" zoning in Seattle. We have let's-make-a-deal proposals for an entitlement to build.)
Anyway, want more construction? Give neighbors a tangible stake in new construction,
Concerned about housing in Seattle? Want to think big? Think we need to moderate the cost of land on which to build attached housing? Try this one as a thought experiment:
Allow apartments in every single family zone so long as (choose your own criteria) 75% of neighbors within 250 feet (roughly 1 block) approve.
Means at least a number of things, in my reckoning:
• Burden is on proponent to "sell" the project and persuade neighbors to "vote" for it.
• Neighbors (property owners) would have to genuinely like the design and add perceived value to 'hood, (like a modern-day Fred Anhalt design.)
• Direct monetary payments to individual property owners, which would be allowed and even encouraged.
• City bureaucracy has different role — more freedom for people to shape their own environment with City staff acting as technical advisors. • Putting it in a slightly different way, all SF zoning becomes a conditional use with major decision made by neighbors.
What are ethics and practicalities?
I don't see any ethical issues. "Zoning" is not a matter of morality but a way of controlling real & perceived impacts. Final arbiter of acceptable impacts should be the people who will suffer/benefit from a proposed building. If a "good design" and $$$ persuades them, then why not?
If we have practical veto downward by neighbors to stop/influence projects -- even those which are designed to meet code -- then why not allow neighbors to control upward?
As to practicalities, obviously the developer will have higher transaction costs. Then again, developer doesn't have to make the proposal if s/he doesn't think it is worth the effort. • Is 75% too high? Is 250' too far away? Not far enough? • Should renters have a vote? I don't think so but open to discussion, as is the whole concept of course.
•I can see some sort of sliding scale so that, for example, people who own 2 blocks away get 25% vote etc etc.
• Why should people who live distant (say in West Seattle) have anything to do with, say, a property in Maple Leaf? (Which is at least 10 miles away but within the City of Seattle limits so both subject to City zoning rules.) What is their interest?
• I can however also see a City veto based on some substantial rational basis such as, maybe, with shoreline properties.But the presumption should be that neighbors know best and if they want to vote for a new project nearby, why not?
• I am not suggesting changes of zoning but only site-specific proposals. Neighbors have to see real plans.
• Would there be a maximum massing etc etc no matter what? Probably so. • And obviously, to me, that basic Building Code and life/safety provisions are not subject to negotiation except with City officials on fine Code interpretations, which happens all the time.
Lots to think about: this is just a thought experiment. smile emoticon
Yes, the idea of even thinking about such an idea is remote. Maybe that's why we'll never progress very far in improving the situation since, my view, is that we seem incapable to even play with "What ifs...?"